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Pickin Up the Pieces ()

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The first full-length album from Fitz & the Tantrums (which recycles two tunes from their debut EP, 2009's Songs for a Break Up, Vol. 1), Pickin' Up the Pieces finds this L.A.-based sextet breaking out big time within the soul revival underground, though for a band that plays heavily on their D.I.Y. cred -- as their press materials frequently note, this album was primarily recorded in lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick's living room -- these songs find them playing to the polished and poppier end of the R&B spectrum. Principle songwriter Fitzpatrick and Tantrums' arranger James King (who also plays sax) lean to the more refined sounds of classic-era Motown, and the East Coast and Chicago styles that informed Northern soul, rather than the grittier Southern soul artists who recorded for Stax or Goldwax, and while these songs show a strong and obvious influence of classic '60s soul, there's more than a dash of contemporary pop in the way the hooks make themselves felt, the stylish layers of backing vocals, and the occasional use of drum loops. This is soul from the upscale night spot rather than the juke joint, but it's a club that's well worth the cover charge; Fitzpatrick is a significantly better than the average blue-eyed soul crooner, his vocal partner Noelle Scaggs is good enough that one wishes she got more space in the spotlight, and under King's direction, the band cuts an impressive groove without cluttering up the arrangements or depending too strongly on their influences to convincingly conjure the sound of the classic era of soul. Fitz & the Tantrums may lack some of the sweaty muscle of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, the current titans of the retro-soul scene, but this band is clearly going for a different approach, and on their own terms they've made a solid album that fuses past and present and creates a space that's a cool place to be. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi Hide synopsis

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